October 30, 2009
Earlier I drew on influences from Spinoza’s “Ethics” in “An Overview ~ Condensing Some Of The Ideas Discussed Thus Far…” as it raised some pertinent ideas surrounding our need to understand the world around us in order to develop a better ethical understanding about Life in general. Here, I would like to progress deeper into Spinoza’s ideas and set them against my own views so as to suggest why I agree (and disagree) with certain points that he raises.
Implicit in the medieval-Cartesian legacy is a philosophical theme that goes all the way back to Plato: psychological dualism. From Plato through Descartes man was conceived as a composite entity comprising both mental and physical substances. For Plato, most of the medievals, and Descartes, these two elements were radically distinct in nature and separable, especially after the decay of the body. And thus we have the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. From this pyschological dualism a moral dualism was developed: the soul has, by virtue of its superior and immortal nature, the function of governing the body, in particular of ruling over the latter’s passions. That reason hsas the power and duty to exercise this role was virtually an unquestionable assumption in philosophy from Plato through Descartes. Spinoza rejects this whol tradition.
To see why let us begin with Descartes, whom Spinoza chooses as his philosophical antagonist. Descartes bequeathed to philosophy a very strong form of psychological dualism that asserts the following:
1. Man consists of two radically different substances, mind and body.
2. Although distinct in nature these two substances are united into one individual.
3. Again, despite their dissimilarities, mind and body interact.
4. Reason has unlimited capacity to control direct passion.
Spinoza believes that all of these claims are false.
Consider Thesis I, which is the cornerstone of Cartasian theory of human nature. Even prior to Spinoza several of Descartes’ more acute readers realized that his psychological dualism was difficult sledding. The Princes Elizabeth of Bohemia quickly perceived that if two things are as unlike as Descartes claimed the soul and body are, how can they be said to be united and to interact? After all, if oil and water don’t mix, why should we expect th mind and the body to get together and get along with each other? It just doesn’t seem plausible. Descartes’ replies to the Princess were perfunctory of feeble, and many of Descartes’ contemporaries and immediate successors attempted to develop alternative accounts of human nature that would avoid the difficulties of Descartes’ version of psychological dualism.
I many ways I find this idea very important. Firstly, when something is so intergrated into a system, how can it be different? For example, if we have a computer and the body consists of a Hard Drive, a CPU, RAM, data busses, and the rest is made up of the basics i.e. a CD ROM, power transformer, chassé, etc… Are these components still not part of the whole that make up the “computer”? If we prescribe a notion that the Hard Drive, CPU and RAM are like the human mind, and the CD ROM, power transformer, chassé, etc is like the eyes, stomach and skin/bones, perhaps we can investigate this idea better. Let’s ask an important question… Without the bodily parts, will the machine function like normal? I would say no. If the chassé goes, then wires and internal components are exposed to the environment, thus meaning that the electricity flowing through the system can more easily earth against other objects in the surround environment… Or as dust builds up on the circuit boards, a shorting might also occur… Not to mention they might get knocked and broken as objects are dropped on them and liquid is spilt accidently. This, in many ways, is comparable to the human body. If we remove the skin, the internal organs will be left exposed to the world at large and thus they will suffer from more infections, get bashed and knocks more often, and even not function as well as they will not be kept as warm. The dermis is an integral part to both systems. Without all their parts these systems do not operate in the same way or manner. Thus… We can make a statement. If all parts are equally important to each system’s natural functioning, then all dualism really does is provide the observer with two distinct systems, which both have varying modes and aspects to them, contributing a healthy function to the whole. We shouldn’t prescribe more importance to one aspect of the whole, just because it seems to house the illusion of self… As this imbalances the equation. Without that balance, our thinking becomes unbalanced, and thus our “Ethics” also become biased and disconnected from reality. Our minds are the result of the system of a human body. The human body houses everything i.e. mind, tongue, eyes, ears, skin, nerves, brain, stomach, kidneys, liver, heart, muscles, cartilage, sinew, bones, etc… Take any aspect of this system away, and it becomes unbalanced. It becomes less than what it was it was described as… Human being. Thus, we should not give more importance to one aspect of ourselves just because it seemingly houses our illusion of the soul… Rather we are, in our totality, souls… Both body and mind – in unification – working together with patterns/processes that interlink the two man-made concepts (which seem to be separate, but are only separated in fact by psychological ideas that stem from man-made observations and through the process of thought). Only ideas and understanding separates and fractures the world around us. But these delusions need to be balanced with a healthy knowing that these discriminations are nothing more than ways to understand a deeply interconnected universe of energy – much like that described in the Buddhist theory of “Interdependent Origination.”
One alternative was to eliminate entirely the mind from philosophical discourse. This was the route chosen by Hobbes and the materialists, who reduced man to a set of physical particles in motion. Another alternative was to define man solely as a mind, or perceiver with all its perceptions. this was the route taken by Berkeley and the later Leibniz. Spinoza took neither road. Man is a finite mode of an infinitely various substance, two of whose attributes are thought and extension. This means that man too is both thinking and extended; but unlike Descartes’ man, Spinoza’s human mode is not a composite substance, whose elements – mind and body – are mysteriously united. Rather, each and every human being can be considered as a physical organism capable of performing a variety of physical functions and activities; it can also be viewed as a mental agent engaging in all sorts of intellectual and psychical operations. The former set of functions falls under the attribute of extension, the latter under the attribute of thought, both attributes being exemplified in man since he is a mode of God, who is constituted by at least these two attributes. These two basic kinds of activities are not expressions of two radically different constituents in human nature that are either causally related, as in Descartes, or totally independent, as in Malebranche. Rather, there is one series of events or processes that can be described either as extended or as mental modes. Indeed, since substance, God, or nature is infinite, there is an infinite number of ways in which one could in principle explain human nature. But Spinoza speaks only of two: the way of extension and the way of thought. To elucidate this notion let us refer to Spinoza himself.
In Letter 9 Spinoza tries to explain to his correspondent, by means of a biblical illustration, how the indivisible one substance God can have many distinct attributes. Of the three Patriarchs the last was called by the names ‘Jacob’ and ‘Israel.’ Now the first name signifies to a Hebrew speaker the connotation of clinging to the heel (Genesis 25:24-26), whereas the second connotes victory over the angel (Gen. 32:23-32). But it is both the same person who both seized the heel of his brother and who fought with an angel. Spinoza uses this example to make the general point that substance can have many attributes without itself being many. The example can also serve to explain how one mode can exhibit two very different kinds of activities without being divisible into two radically different kinds of elements. For just as the names ‘Jacob’ an ‘Israel’ have different connotations but denote the same person, so too the attributes of thought and extension have different connotations although they are manifested in one and the same individual. But they are exemplified not as two radically distinct constituent elements within the same person, as Descartes believed. Nor is it the case that when we describe someone as thinking we really are referring to movements in his nervous system, as Hobbes claimed; or that when we describe someone as eating an apple we are referring to his sensations of eating the apple, as Berkley believed. Reducing mind to matter or matter to mind is just as wrong as marrying mind to matter without explaining how this union can be consummated. For Spinoza, there is just the human being, who can be conceived either as mode of extension, a body, or as a mode of thought, a mind. In describing man under each of these attributes we commit ourselves to a distinct method of explanation and analysis that if consistently and correctly employed will yield adequate knowledge of man. Each explanatory model is autonomous and legitimate; both are needed to account for the richness of human nature. So long as we do not mix attributes and we refrain from asserting causal connections between modes under different attributes, we are in no danger (Propositions 6 and 7, Part II). Spinoza’s monistic metaphysics permits, therefore, multiple possibilities for the description and explanation of human nature.
Once we appreciate how Spinoza solved the Cartesian mind-body riddle, we need not be puzzled any longer by queries concerning the mechanism of mind-body interaction and union. Yet, one serious problem does remain: if human reason is not a semi-independent, superior substance whose job it is to govern bodily passions, as Descartes believed, how are our emotions to be controlled? Indeed, can they be controlled? Actually, it is now not clear how this classic question can be formulated within Spinoza’s psychology, since he doesn’t assert a mind body dualism at all. If mind and body are just two different ways of looking at the same thing, what sense does it make to ask whether one can control the other? Yet, Spinoza is quite aware of the underlying motivation of the question. He knows that man as a mode is a creature of passion and he firmly believes that man’s route to happiness is only by way of moderating and directing these passions. Accordingly, although Spinoza has produced a new psychology, he concerns himself with traditional ethical problems. It is this new psychology, however, that will provide, he believes, a genuine solution of these problems.
Spinoza’s fundamental assumption is that a new method is needed in order to achieve the goal of the classical philosophers, human happiness. The older method – whether in its Greek, medieval, or Cartesian version – proceeded from a moralistic condemnation of human emotion to a list of prescriptions on how to avoid, temper, suppress, or repress passion. Few if any of these thinkers provided a detailed, objective analysis of human emotion. Descartes attempted it in his Treatise on the Passions; but to Spinoza, Descartes’ efforts were not successful. Spinoza believed that his predecessors failed because their either did not study emotion scientifically, or if they did they used the wrong science or did not complete the project. Having laid down and developed in detail the requisite metaphysical and psychological foundations in Parts I and II Spinoza now proceeds to apply these insights to the question of human emotion and how man is to deal with it. These preliminary truths furnish Spinoza with the tools for an objective, neutral analysis of human passion. Psychology is, then, a natural science, subject to the same methods, norms, and goals as the other sciences. And it is from and upon this naturalistic psychology that Spinoza establishes his moral philosophy.
In other writings within this website, you may find pertinent ideas as to the psychological foundations on which the social dynamics of man are built. Please see, “Letting “Them” Into Our Heads,” “Chimamanda Adichie: The Danger Of A Single Story,” “Beau Lotto – Optical Illusions Show How We See,” “Priming Of The Masses – The Century Of Self,” “Jill Bolte Taylor’s Stroke Of Insight,” “Further Scientific Ideas Pertaining To How The Human Mind Works…,” “Evidence For Humans Being “Meme Machines”?,” “‘Infectious’ People Spread Memes Across The Web,” and “Another Take On Reality – Meme, Myself and I” for some pertinent new discoveries pertaining to the nature of our minds. Armed with these ideas, we may begin to see our nature neutrally as an objective analysis that hints towards society’s processes and ultimate drives.
Beginning with this methodological assumption Spinoza claims that man is capable of having both actions and passions, which Spinoza calls affects, or, in our language, emotions. Stated in this way this thesis seems banal. But by the terms ‘action’ and ‘passion’ Spinoza intends something not so trivial. First we must take the word ‘passion’ literally as connoting a process or event whereby the individual undergoes an experience that causes him to suffer. The individual is affected by some stimulus that produces in him an affect. The crucial notion here is that of passivity. Second, the basic difference between actions and passions is not, as some of Spinoza’s predecessors (e.g. Descartes) insisted, one between a mental state and a physical condition, but a difference between two levels of one and the same emotion. If an affect is understood clearly and distinctly, or in Spinoza’s terminology, if we have an “adequate idea” of this emotion, then it is an action, i.e. we are the cause of it. Thus, knowledge results in activity. An emotion not adequately understood is a passion, because in this situation we do not act but suffer, or in common parlance we are on the “receiving end.” Here we are not properly agents, but reagents, i.e. we react, not act. Thus, on Spinoza’s view, what makes a person an agent is self-knowledge; lacking such knowledge, an individual is merely a passive recipient of external and internal stimuli to which he responds either blindly or inadequately. Self-knowledge, however, means realizing that we are elements within a complicated and diverse system of modes. Again, psychology is part of natural science; and ethics must be grounded in these sciences. Earlier philosophers, Spinoza claims, tried to “supernaturalize” man, and by doing so they made it impossible for us to understand ourselves and to achieve human happiness.
For Spinoza, knowledge is freedom. In Part I Spinoza argues that only God is strictly speaking free; for God acts consistently according to His nature, which is Spinoza’s definition of freedom (Definition 7, Propositions 17, 26, Part I). However, even though as finite mode, and hence capable of only limited action according to his own nature, man by virtue of knowledge can become “relatively free.” To the extent that he acquires adequate ideas of himself and his place in nature, man acts, which is to say he responds creatively to his environment and acts upon it. To be free is then to be active, to cause things to happen according to our understanding of the way things are and ought to be. True, we shall never be free as God is; after all, we are but finite modes. Yet, we are capable of knowledge, and to that extent we can be free (Definitions 1, 2, Propositions 1, 3, Part III).
Spinoza’s conception of freedom is one version of a theory currently referred to by such terms a ‘compatibilism,’ ‘reconciliationism,’ or ‘soft-determinism.’ This kind of theory attempts to hold on both to a deterministic account of human behavior and to the notion of a free action. Spinoza himself clearly states in the opening list of definitions that ‘free’ is not opposed to ‘necessary’ but to ‘compelled’ (Definition 7, Part I). It is only when we are compelled to do something that we are not free. In such a situation we merely react to the external force; we don’t act upon it, since our hands are, so to speak, tied. Another way of looking at Spinoza’s concept of freedom is to consider it as a form of self-determinism. A thing is free if and only if it acts according to its own nature. But to act is to be a cause of things and not to be a mere recipient and reagent to stimuli. And we act to the extent that we have adequate ideas, especially of ourselves and our place in nature. Spinoza’s freedom is then a kind of Socratic self-knowledge that makes its possessors capable of acting, i.e. to behave with knowledge and control. And just as Socrates viewed knowledge as a kind of power, so Spinoza sees freedom as power, the capacity to act with understanding on and in this world. Indeed, Spinoza conceives of man as an organism constantly striving to maximize his power to act, to be free. All emotions that contribute to this conatus, or endeavor, increase his freedom; those that decrease it subject man to external and internal forces (Propositions 6, 7, 11, Part III). The freeman is, therefore, the man of power, a person who determines himself.
I have adequately discussed the notion of freedom that we are bestowed with here on Earth in “An Overview ~ Condensing Some Of The Ideas Discussed Thus Far….”
We are now prepared for the final phase in Spinoza’s search for salvation. Armed with the proper understanding of human emotion and human freedom we can confidently confront the most serious obstacle to human happiness, the bondage of the emotions. Spinoza fully appreciates the force of emotions; unlike many of his predecessors, he is neither blind to nor does he underestimate their power. Indeed, for Spinoza most people live in “servitude to passion.” They are slaves to emotion precisely because they are ignorant. It is not that they do not know what is right, as Socrates and the Stoics believed; it is because they do not know what the world and man are like. Virtue, the fundamental concept in Greek and Roman moral philosophy, is for Spinoza power, the capacity to act, which, as we have seen, implies knowledge. The bondage of passion can be loosened through virtue understood as the power to act with understanding. Spinozistic self-knowledge leads to an understanding of one’s nature as an organism necessarily subject to emotions; but by the same token it teaches us how this subjection can be weakened.
This aim of weakening the bonds of “Perception Without Awareness” is of primary importance in this blog. As we have seen, nearly all of us are influenced by the babble and advertising of the mass media at large today. In some way or another, we are provided with the parameters within which to think through the media and television. But once we understand this, we will be able to observe these “forced” habits and patterns of being, and so we will be afforded the chance to free ourselves further.
In Part V Spinoza sketches for us a kind of moral psychotherapy by virtues of which we can liberate ourselves from the bondage of passion. This therapy comprises two levels of cognition: first, knowledge of how our emotion are related to external factors; second, knowledge of how we can attain a certain kind of insight that is, to use religious terminology, redemptive. With respect to the initial level Spinoza prescribes for us a psychology regimen whose general purpose is to detach us from emotion. [The compatibility of these prescriptions with Spinoza's determinism is not evident. After all, if I am suffering from a passion over whose origin in me I had no control, how am I free to eliminate it? Indeed , if I am convinced of Spinoza's advice, this is too determined! So what is the point of Spinoza's moral therapy? Spinoza attempts to answer these objections in Letters 56, 58, and 78.] This is achieved primarily by understanding the nature of the particular emotions, their etiology, and how and to what extent they dominate us. Having acquired this knowledge we are well on the way to becoming free of emotional bondage. For example, most people become fixated upon some one thing, person, or activity that holds them under its sway. The most obvious example of such a fixation is sexual passion. However, the power and pain of this emotional bond can be enervated and perhaps broken once we realize that this emotion is very likely to cause frustration and grief. With this knowledge we can redirect the energy we might be tempted to put into such a relationship. Moreover, we come to realize that the particular relationship is not the only one that can satisfy our emotional needs. Emotions are transferable. Indeed, we may attain the more important insight that these emotions can be transformed into other emotions that can be satisfied by objects, activities, or persons that are more stable or advantageous. Here Spinoza has anticipated the Freudian notions of obsession and sublimation. Like his twentieth century counterpart Spinoza did not advocate asceticism, but moderation. He as well as Freud realized that emotions had to be understood and effectively controlled or channeled into profitable directions; otherwise, we suffer.
At this point it’s important to bear in mind how Spinoza’s new notion of God comes into play and takes over from the old traditional virtues of religious doctrines.
The second level of knowledge requisite for our happiness has to do with our palce within the whole of nature, or, in religious terms, with our relationship to God. Indeed, Spinoza claims that adequate self-knowledge is the first step toward a manifestation of our love of God (Propositions 14, 15, Part V). Remember that to understand oneself is to see oneself as a particular mode within Nature, or God. Self-knowledge is then knowledge of God. But love for Spinoza is an affect, or emotion, that involves knowledge; for love is “joy accompanied by an idea of its cause” (Definitions of the Emotions, Definition 6, Part III). All knowledge, especially in so far as it is defined as adequate ideas, can be related to the whole system of nature, or God. Self knowledge is then knowledge of God. But love for Spinoza is an affect, or emotion, that involves knowledge; for love is “joy accompanied by an idea of its cause” (Definitions of the Emotions, Definition 6, Part III). All knowledge, especially in so far as it is defined as adequate ideas, can be related to the idea of the whole system of nature, or God. To know is then to love God, and the more we know the more we love God (Propositions 15, 24, Part V). It is this love of God that constitutes for Spinoza the summum bonum, that which makes for human happiness. Because of the essential role of this kind of knowledge in Spinoza’s philosophy a special term is used by Spinoza to characterize it: scientia intuitiva, or “intuitive knowledge.” From an epistimological vantage-point this kind of knowledge is superior to both sense-perception and inference. It is complete an systematic, unlike the fragmentary and partial character of sense-experience; it is synthetic categorical, unlike the discursive and hypothetical nature of inference. Intuitive cognition enables us to perceive the whole of reality in a comprehensive grasp, wherein everything is “clear and distinct.” From this insight we are then able to “descend” to the individual elements of nature and see their mutual relationships in a way that was only dimly, partially, or sequentially perceived heretofore. With intuitive knowledge everything becomes systematically intelligible (Proposition 40, Scholium 2, Part II; Propositions 25, Part V).
From the ethical perspective intuitive cognition results in an understanding of man and his place in the universe such that life becomes not only intelligible but livable. For the scientia intuitiva gives us the “highest possible peace of mind” (Proposition 27, Part V). Why is this so? Happiness or, if we prefer, salvation, is the attainment of such knowledge because intuitive knowledge shows us why things happen in the ways that they do happen, that they cannot be otherwise, that man is not some extraterrestrial visitor who temporally inhabits this planet and then returns to some foreign domain, and that as an integral element of this one and only world he must learn to live in it. This knowledge can be characterized, Spinoza claims, as an insight of and into eternity, whereby the whole universe and everything within it are perceived “under a form of eternity.”
This is where I feel that the much overlooked fractal aspect of the universe could allow us to understand much of the natural processes and general flow of all things… Bear in mind what I have written in “The ‘Idea’ Of Infinity…” and “Self Similarity ~ Fractals, Fractals Everywhere…” before reading this following part.
Now we have reached one of the more famous Spinozistic notions, but at the same time a difficult one. For what does Spinoza mean by ‘eternity’? He tells us explicitly that he does not mean thereby infinite duration, which is how Aristotle and some of his medieval disciples construed this idea (Proposition 29, Part V). For Spinoza, to say that God, or Nature, is eternal is not to imply merely that God exists for infinite time. Rather, there is a sense in which, according to Spinoza, God, or Nature, is timeless. This latter notion is also, admittedly, not without its problems. But Spinoza tells in his list of definitions in Part I that eternity implies the kind of existence that characterizes a being that is totally self-sufficient and necessary. Indeed, given his definition of freedom, it turns out that for Spinoza the being that is free is also eternal, and conversely; for both of these attributes are features of a being whose existence and activity follow necessarily and only from its own nature. The key term here is ‘necessity’: that which exists and acts necessarily in complete conformity to its own nature is both free and eternal. For Spinoza only God, or Nature, satisfies totally this condition. In this sense God is not subject to time; for a being that falls within time is one that is not self-sufficient and perfect. Such entities are truly changeable, whereas God is immutable.
The perception of the universe “under a form of eternity” is the true and most precise insight about God. For we recognize the inevitable and constant character of reality as it is, and with this knowledge we attain happiness. [At this juncture another problem in Spinoza emerges: human immortality. In Propositions 21-31, Part V, Spinoza elusively alludes to a kind of immortality of the mind, which the commentators have found quite difficult to make precise. For some recent discussion of topic see A. Donagan "Spinoza's Proof of Immortality," in Spinoza: A Collection of Critical Essays edited by Majorie Grene (N.Y. 1973), 241-258; C. L. Hardin, "Spinoza on Immortality and Time," in Spinoza: New Perspectives, edited by R. Shahan and J. Biro (Norman, Oklahoma 1978), 129-138.]
Here I’d like to suggest that fractals are what makes the mind eternal. The mind is nothing more than a system which has various neural centers that govern certain aspects of character, as I have already suggested in “Self Similarity ~ Fractals, Fractals Everywhere…,” all of which are regulated by aspects centered around chaotic systems i.e. strange attractors, that are infinite in nature… Thus these patterns of mind are eternal in the sense that they never repeat themselves in any exact manor, but rather they flow with self-similarity to ensure subtle change that give rise to an aspect of evolution (as discussed in “An Overview ~ Condensing Some Of The Ideas Discussed Thus Far…“).
I would also suggest that the idea of memes presents one with another aspect of how the mind is eternal. As you may have already noticed, we are very open to suggestion in our daily lives, “taking-on-board” many ideas that are not our own. This beg the question… “Is anything that we do actually original?” I would say not. Rather we mimic and reflect the social and geographical needs that we find ourselves in. We do so in order that we may fulfill our basic hardwired motive – to survive and pass on our genes to ensure survival of the species. If one was to born into a this world, then immediately removed from their parents, their society and thrust into an alien geography like a jungle, much in the same way Tarzan was, and allowed to grow into adulthood unaware of their origins, parents and culturally. Then, if his “ape-man” were brought back to their parents, do you think they would find this “new” world familiar at all? I doubt so. Rather they would perhaps feel alienated in their new and unfamiliar surroundings. This demonstrates that we merely reflect the aspect of our surroundings in accord to the times and stresses imposed upon us. And it is these aspects of mankind and society that are eternal i.e. it is they that pass down from generation to generation as memes, changing subtly and suitably to suite the needs of this ever evolving world. No aspect of this collective will ever die… It merely get passed on in other ways, mutating much like our DNA does. This aspect of self-similarity gives credence to part of the whole pattern repeating itself across many varying scales and at many different levels.
In one sense this is not a new idea. The ancient Stoics too emphasized the importance of accepting and living according to nature and her inevitable laws. And the medieval philosophers spoke of a stage of intellectual perception that results in a kind of mystic union with its object, in this case, God. In fact, probably the first philosopher Spinoza read, Maimonides, ends his famous Guide of The Perplexed with a description of this kind of vision, which he characterizes as love of God through knowledge, a love that unites the lover with the beloved. [Maimonides, Guide of The Perplexed, Part III, chapters 51-54.] Another Jewish philosopher, Leone Ebreo, or Judah Abravanel, whose book was owned by Spinoza, referred to this type of intellectual mysticism as “the intellectual love of God,” the precise term used by Spinoza in the concluding pages of the Ethics. Nevertheless, although the general idea and perhaps even the term may not be new, Spinoza’s “intellectual love of God” (amor intellectuallis Dei) is different from both the Stoic and Maimonidean notions. Spinoza is not a Stoic because he does not believe, as Stoics did, that man is capable of complete self-mastery, that our emotions and behavior are totally under the sway of our will and reason. We have already seen that because man is but a mode of and within nature, his power, and hence his freedom, is limited. The Stoic and Cartesian vision of man exercising complete control over his emotional life is for Spinoza just false; it rests upon a totally inadequate psychology, which is turn is based upon faulty metaphysics. Moreover, Spinoza rejects the Stoic notions of passivity, withdrawal, and asceticism. For Spinoza, let us recall, freedom, to the extent that we have it, consists in activity, power, and joy. Spinoza’s free spirit, to use Nietzsche’s term, is a person who says ‘Yes’ to life, not ‘No.’ Happiness consists not in suppressing or repressing one’s emotions but in transforming them into adequate ideas so one can be free and joyful. In Spinoza’s own life we can see the difference between the Stoics and himself in his pursuit and cultivation of friendship; for the Stoics, however, friendship was a neutral, or indifferent, activity.
Nor is Spinoza’s intellectual love of God identical with the medieval doctrine of union with God through knowledge. To Spinoza this notion of literal union with God through knowledge is obscure (Definitions of the Emotions, Definition 6, Part III). It rests upon the dualistic metaphysics wherein God and man are conceived as radically distinct, such that the desired union with God has to come about through some supernatural mediation, either through prophecy or incarnation. Spinoza’s monistic metaphysics makes prophecy and incarnation both unnecessary and incoherent. True, the intuitive cognition that is required for and results in human happiness is “difficult and rare”; but it is attainable by man with the capacities that he possesses. The fact that most people have not achieved human happiness is, for Spinoza, not to be attributed to some irremediable taint that they have inherited from Adam, but to ignorance and superstition. It was to the defeat and removal of the latter enemies of mankind that Spinoza dedicated his life and his Ethics.
I believe Spinoza has a point here. Everything in this blog is not so much stating a purpose for Life. Rather it is observing the patterns that form the operating basis for Life. This has no doubt provided me with a clear and distinct joy at being able to understand the probability within which we have fortunately arrived here. For it is a mighty mountain of odds that we have scaled thus far. Once I began to see this, my life changed in many ways, doing so for the better. In these pages on this website, I hope to be able impart some of the Knowledge that allowed me to grasp the wonder to which we were born to others, with the hope that it may provide a similar catalyst to my own; a catalyst that will set in motion a chain of events giving rise to a path leading away from the old ways into new plains of being… When we begin to see that God is more of a process than a being, we also begin to understand what a powerful metaphor for the infinite aspects of nature God is, and that mankind – as part of this creation – intuitively knew about this infinite and eternal aspect, as he expressed through his own various religious decrees. For science does not erase the notion of God, or Nature! An interesting idea in line with Spinoza’s view of God and knowing, or love of God, can be found here.
When I saw the Mandelbrot Set for the first time, I knew there was something familiar about its twisting and eternal flow… I had seen it before I had come into this world, just as all living beings see their maker before their creation. I was, only in-part, of this design – this was the hallmark mark left by the geometry that constructed me – this is the “thumb-print” of “God, or Nature…” An aspect of the holy trinity of creation, chaos and math that allows all the infinite aspects of the whole to be known by the parts, individually… And by the sum of the parts together. This is what we are currently doing… We are coming together to see a view of the whole, sharing and excahnging our views so that we may see new perspectives that might not have been visible to us as individuals before. Hopefully, when you see this too, we might forge a better world for ourselves, in harmony with one another and every living thing, understanding what we are, how we are all interconnected in the Tao’s flow, and therefore what we must do to ensure that we fulfill all our abilities and obligations as keeper of this hallowed Earth while we live here, ensuring the same for the future generations of all Life to come… This is an Ethic that Spinoza shared. One of harmony, whereby one did not need more than they should have to survive comfortably. This minimalist ideal pervaded Spinoza’s way of life and ensure his joy and faithfulness to understanding the essence of being. If only he could have seen what science has thus far revealed… I believe he would have brought to our attention of pertinent ideas for new ways of being.
If you are curious about Spinoza’s treatise on his Ethics, please click here to view a highly recommended book about this subject.
Quotes in this essay are taken from: Ethics – Treatise on The Emendation Of The Intellect and Selected Letters, introduced by Seymour Feldman.
October 27, 2009
No doubt those of you following these writings will have noticed that the theme running through this website is all about thinking correctly… And understanding, as best as we currently can, where we all came from i.e. the processes that brought about the Universe – and all of us here on Earth – into being naturally flowing dynamical systems. The ultimate purpose of this website is to provide a knowledge, for those of you who desire it, to free yourself with. For, once one grasps the essential patterns that flow through life, they might then be able to think afresh, and place their actions into a truer more valid context of life, thus enhancing their experience and, more importantly, allowing them to act more accordingly within reality’s parameters. As we saw with Spinoza’s “Ethics” i.e. a book concerned with the human life and the right way to live, there really is no use in writing about ethics if we have an erroneous conception of nature in general and of human nature in particular.
Thus, in order to move on from the “unenlightened age of man” into an “age of renewed awareness” we must let go of the old and embrace the new. By thinking about this deeply, you will be carving yourself out a new brain, better habits and healthier lives, all of which will allow you to function more appropriately within the Universe in which we find ourselves. Once We have done this, we just might function better ecologically, morally, intellectually and more happily than we ever have done before.
20 Jan 2007 (Sharon Begley, Wall Street Journal) Dalai Lama helps scientists show the power of the mind to sculpt our gray matter.
Although science and religion are often in conflict, the Dalai Lama takes a different approach. Every year or so the head of Tibetan Buddhism invites a group of scientists to his home in Dharamsala, in Northern India, to discuss their work and how Buddhism might contribute to it.
In 2004 the subject was neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to change its structure and function in response to experience. The following are vignettes adapted from “Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain,” which describes this emerging area of science:
The Dalai Lama, who had watched a brain operation during a visit to an American medical school over a decade earlier, asked the surgeons a startling question: Can the mind shape brain matter?
Over the years, he said, neuroscientists had explained to him that mental experiences reflect chemical and electrical changes in the brain. When electrical impulses zip through our visual cortex, for instance, we see; when neurochemicals course through the limbic system we feel.
But something had always bothered him about this explanation, the Dalai Lama said. Could it work the other way around? That is, in addition to the brain giving rise to thoughts and hopes and beliefs and emotions that add up to this thing we call the mind, maybe the mind also acts back on the brain to cause physical changes in the very matter that created it. If so, then pure thought would change the brain’s activity, its circuits or even its structure.
To see where I sourced this article from, please visit the website of origin by clicking here.
October 27, 2009
In a world populated by meme machines… Meme machines who are a lot more susceptible to being indoctrinated with rather bizarre ideals than most of them care to ever believe, let alone admit i.e. see Millgrams experiments, we are all exposed to and influenced by biased opinions on a daily basis… These biased opions, all corporate advertizing, stereotypical ideals and one sided stories all seem to captivate and blind us to the diverse and complex reality that we were born into. And because of this, we need to remember the importance of remaining open, so as not to become oblivious to real and obvious truths… But probably more importantly, we should be aware of these issues, so that we do NOT become a slave to a system that takes advantage of the natural processes that ultimately make us behave in the ways that we do. Otherwise the people with the knowledge of how to do this will give into the corporate system’s promise of great rewards, who in turn will manipulate our minds, telling us what we should give, and not give, consent for. This is when we “honestly” stop thinking for ourselves and become nothing more than part of the “herd.” WE MUST SEE THE COMPLETE PICTURE TO BE ABLE TO MAKE UP OUR MINDS ABOUT TRUE FREE CHOICE!!!
Our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories. Novelist Chimamanda Adichie tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice — and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.
About Chimamanda Adichie:
In Nigeria, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel Half of a Yellow Sun has helped inspire new, cross-generational communication about the Biafran war. In this and in her other works, she seeks to instill dignity into the finest details of each character, whether poor, middle class or rich, exposing along the way the deep scars of colonialism in the African landscape.
Adichie’s newest book, The Thing Around Your Neck, is a brilliant collection of stories about Nigerians struggling to cope with a corrupted context in their home country, and about the Nigerian immigrant experience.
Adichie builds on the literary tradition of Igbo literary giant Chinua Achebe—and when she found out that Achebe liked Half of a Yellow Sun, she says she cried for a whole day. What he said about her rings true: “We do not usually associate wisdom with beginners, but here is a new writer endowed with the gift of ancient storytellers.”
For more information about Chimamanda Adichie, please click here.
October 23, 2009
There once lived a great warrior. Though quite old, he still was able to defeat any challenger. His reputation extended far and wide throughout the land and many students gathered to study under him.
One day an infamous young warrior arrived at the village. He was determined to be the first man to defeat the great master. Along with his strength, he had an uncanny ability to spot and exploit any weakness in an opponent. He would wait for his opponent to make the first move, thus revealing a weakness, and then would strike with merciless force and lightning speed. No one had ever lasted with him in a match beyond the first move.
Much against the advice of his concerned students, the old master gladly accepted the young warrior’s challenge. As the two squared off for battle, the young warrior began to hurl insults at the old master. He threw dirt and spit in his face. For hours he verbally assaulted him with every curse and insult known to mankind. But the old warrior merely stood there motionless and calm. Finally, the young warrior exhausted himself. Knowing he was defeated, he left feeling shamed.
Somewhat disappointed that he did not fight the insolent youth, the students gathered around the old master and questioned him. “How could you endure such an indignity? How did you drive him away?”
“If someone comes to give you a gift and you do not receive it,” the master replied, “to whom does the gift belong?”
October 22, 2009
A martial arts student approached his teacher with a question. “I’d like to improve my knowledge of the martial arts. In addition to learning from you, I’d like to study with another teacher in order to learn another style. What do you think of this idea?”
“The hunter who chases two rabbits,” answered the master, “catches neither one.”
October 21, 2009
One day while walking through the wilderness a man stumbled upon a vicious tiger. He ran but soon came to the edge of a high cliff. Desperate to save himself, he climbed down a vine and dangled over the fatal precipice. As he hung there, two mice appeared from a hole in the cliff and began gnawing on the vine. Suddenly, he noticed on the vine a plump wild strawberry. He plucked it and popped it in his mouth. It was incredibly delicious!
October 20, 2009
No doubt some of you will have noticed some unusual round dots at the top of some of the blogs contained within this website… And perhaps you might have wondered as to what purpose they serve.
But before I elude anything further about the nature of these spots, I would like to look at the definition of some words which we will need to understand before we proceed.
i. empirical method or practice.
ii. Philosophy. the doctrine that all knowledge is derived from sense experience. Compare rationalism.
iii. undue reliance upon experience, as in medicine; quackery.
iv. an empirical conclusion.
i. the principle or habit of accepting reason as the supreme authority in matters of opinion, belief, or conduct.
a. the doctrine that reason alone is a source of knowledge and is independent of experience.
b. (in the philosophies of Descartes, Spinoza, etc.) the doctrine that all knowledge is expressible in self-evident propositions or their consequences.
iii. Theology. the doctrine that human reason, unaided by divine revelation, is an adequate or the sole guide to all attainable religious truth.
iv. Architecture. (often initial capital letter)
a. a design movement principally of the mid-19th century that emphasized the development of modern ornament integrated with structure and the decorative use of materials and textures rather than as added adornment.
b. the doctrines and practices of this movement. Compare functionalism.
i. The doctrine that the function of an object should determine its design and materials.
ii. A doctrine stressing purpose, practicality, and utility.
iii. Philosophy The doctrine in the philosophy of mind according to which mental states are defined by their causes and effects.
In relation to specific doctrines:
i. (usually initial capital letter) Chiefly Architecture, Furniture.
a. a design movement evolved from several previous movements or schools in Europe in the early 20th century, advocating the design of buildings, furnishings, etc., as direct fulfillments of material requirements, as for shelter, repose, or the serving of food, with the construction, materials, and purpose clearly expressed or at least not denied, and with aesthetic effect derived chiefly from proportions and finish, purely decorative effects being excluded or greatly subordinated.
b. the doctrines and practices associated with this movement. Compare functionalism.
ii. Psychology. the doctrine that emphasizes the adaptiveness of the mental or behavioral processes.
iii. Sociology. Also called structural functionalism. a theoretical orientation that views society as a system of interdependent parts whose functions contribute to the stability and survival of the system.
From these important foundations I am now able to present an arrangement of ideas that may lead one on to a clearer understanding about the human condition… A condition that We, as human beings, are all afflicted with in our current state of being here on Earth.
In my humble opinion, much in philosophy has become overtly sophomoric. No doubt it was the Greek’s original intention for philosophy to teach one how to be content and happy in the life that we have. And, in many ways, this philosophical premise became a crusade to rid man of any unenlightened thought… Thought that had sprung from a time when mankind sought to explain the unknowable and unexplainable with “reason” steeped in magical and mystical overtones of faerie tail legend… Is it any wonder why the Greeks saw this as a big problem? For how could man become enlightened and understand his place in the world better if he was still distracted by a mixture of contradicting legends and folklore that spoke nothing of truth, reason or reality and bore very little resemblance the world that existed around him? These yarns could only serve one purpose: to distract mankind from life’s monotonous drudgery by providing him with a false/ignorant hope to go on to the end. Troubling indeed…
The Greeks made a valiant start at this purge of fanciful delights. And as they expounded their thoughts and ideas, a youthful realism began to cleave it way through the old mystical nonsense of past times, replenishing the stagnant curiosity of old, with a new invigoration gem of clear cut understanding. This new understanding allowed man to take action within the natural bounds of Universal order. Much head-way was made with Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, all of whom hoped to benefit mankind with their observations of penetrating fact. Even right through to the advent of St Anslem’s ontological argument for the existence of God, the world of thought and reason grew in a holy quest for the betterment of all mankind in God’s world… For this betterment was based on an aspiration of becoming closer to our “maker,” so that we may live more pertinently to our station and find ways to rise above the base nature of animal instinct. And along the way it was duly noted that this type of betterment could only properly arise from understanding truth. So the great thinkers began to look for the truth in the simplest of nature’s systems – systems that God had made. This type of empiricism gave rise to a sort of reverse-thought-engineering i.e. observe the patterns and then describe them and realize their causes, mechanisms and purpose. Thus arose the likes of Locke, Descartes, Hume, Kant and Newton, all of whom sought truth from the hedonistic and troubled times of the Renaissance. These humble philosophers brought the human condition to a culminating point of understanding itself and our position in God’s creation. Politics, Science and Religious ideals were all discussed at length during this Enlightened period and from them refinement and the truth was distilled – thought it must be said that Religious decree during these times still held the better of people’s tongues in modest check. But as time progressed onwards, so philosophy became less guarded against the ever decreasing Religious whiplash, and eventually ventured into realms of the empty meaning of man’s true nature i.e. existentialism, phenomenology and analytic philosophy. However, during these broad-minded times, it seems almost as if the originators of their respective schools of thought have taken it upon themselves to argue every nuance of their ideologies so as to safe-guard their intellectual constructs against deceitful attack from opposing schools who would seek to undermine other’s ideals for the petty sake of embroidering their own truths in the general populous. And in unwittingly maintaining this prejudiced and superior view of their own ideals, many still forget to look to the natural world surrounding them for their inspiration, thus becoming fixated on obstinate practices of egocentric bias rather than the search for an health balanced truth and the cultivation of a real understanding about the Universe in which we live.
For me, this is where empiricism provides a sort of fail safe against egocentricity. The notion that knowledge arises from experience is of course a profound basis for developing a real understanding about the universe in which we live. If we see something occur i.e. an apple fall to the ground from a tree, and observe it occurring time and again in varying situations with varying objects, all of which fall toward the Earth… AND none which fall into the sky!? We would be forgiven for thinking that there is some kind of hold that the Earth has over objects. This profound realization of attraction i.e. that massive bodies exert gravitational pull on other bodies, while being credited to Sir Issac Newton, was no doubt observed way before an apple fell on his head. However, as Sir Newton was predisposed to making observations, he noted duly the act of an apple falling, somewhat understood the fact that the Earth was a spherical mass much like the other planets, and applied the notion of attraction to other celestial bodies and understood that a force was keeping the planets in orbit around the Sun. And after much consideration, named this force “gravity.” Most people today marvel at the aptitude of this modest man’s observation… However, in February of 1676 Newton writes to Robert Hooke to attest that, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” This humble renouncing of the fame with which Newton was adorned for deducing the force of “gravity” is no doubt the sign of a reserved and well guarded scientist. For absolute certainty, while being a wondrous proclamation of self-assured understanding, is also total and absolute folly. Newton was wise enough (bearing in mind the world in which he lived) to know that “perfect-knowledge” i.e. knowledge that has total security from error, could only ever be ascribed to God himself.
Whether Newton knew about this inherent uncertainty in the way in which human beings perceive the world around them, we are not quite sure. But I feel he had an inkling towards it. How he deduced this i.e. as a fact based on empirical evidence OR if only inferred from philosophical ideals based on religious decree… Is open to debate. However, I would guess from all that I have read on the matter, psychology at that time had not been reduced to an effective and exacting form science as it is deemed to be today i.e. the idea of optical illusions – as well as the problems of perception (as discussed with regards to the table in Bertrand Russell’s book entitled “The Problems Of Philosophy“) – had still not been properly, nor fully documented. What Newton might have only guessed at (having done so after reading Descartes’ “Meditations on First Philosophy“) was that observation was only as good as the machinery that was used to observe and deduce the facts that emanate the patterns in the “real” world around them. And if the machine is prone to deducing fact from fiction, as we have all too readily seen in Probably The Best Optical Illusion I’ve Seen In A While… And The Idea Of Priming! and Beau Lotto – Optical Illusions Show How We See… Well… Many of the deductions made by ourselves might be nothing more than fictitious notions based on the misrepresentation inherent in the architecture of our bodies resulting in illusion. So… Until we properly understand that we are prone to make decisions based on illusions, not facts, and that our idea of control and choice is to certain degree predetermined (see “The Secret You”), then we might never hope to free ourselves of the quandary that we, as human beings, continually make for ourselves.
Here I will use an analogy… At this moment in time, We (as a race) are very much like the three year old child that Rebecca Saxe talks about here. We aspire to be like the 5 year child, in that We aim to perceive the world more clearly by understanding the values of the other people around us, and we strive to determine how “accidents” and “misconceptions” occur i.e. others are either oblivious to, unaware of OR misinterpret real world events… And as we are only just three olds, we still haven’t properly grasped what the 5 year old child seems to so easily understand i.e. that Ivan the pirate didn’t actually mean to take/steal Joshua’s sandwich knowingly. Let’s bring it into context… In humanity’s case, it’s more that a divine power did not actually mean to kill all of those people with war, famine, disease, natural disasters, etc… It just happened naturally… Just as all things naturally tend to happen in this small corner of the Universal playground into which we were born. My guess is that we really had to make up the notion of a higher power than ourselves, so that we might be given the chance to somehow free ourselves of the helplessness that we all faced/felt/feared in the greater scheme of things. To not be able to control the death of those whom we love is a terrible thing indeed, as Charles Darwin all to readily understood by 1859…
Existence is not an easy thing… Lord Tennyson once described nature as “red in tooth and claw” and, with this, I feel he beautifully sums up the harshly competitive fight that all Earthly life must engage in on a daily basis. It hurts when we loose loved ones… And it seems to confuse us when we can not rationalize the misfortune that we all sometimes come across throughout the journey of our lives. No doubt we as a species have mastered much in the way of taming the needs of survival i.e. we have invented tools with which to hunt with, mastered the art of agriculture, understood the importance of fire… And above all, we can engage with one another in complex communication, via the mode of language, so that we can express abstract feelings and ideas to one another. Having done these things easily (as easily as passing down the information needed to perform these complex functions from parent to child OR teacher to student), we looked around us and noticed that animals did not act like us. No doubt, in our self-centered state of mind, based around our immediate survival, we thus concluded that We were above animals… And once we reached the top of the food chain, we became further deluded about our station. When storms destroyed our crops, we felt helpless. When disease killed our fellows, we felt defenseless. When the earth moved violently and our caves and/or buildings collapsed, we felt destitute and in need of shelter. How could we have understood the erratic flow that all weather systems here on Earth follow; weather systems that are based on the in-exact science of chaos? How could we have seen the invisible world of the bacterium and virus and known how to fight the unseen foe? And how could we have understood that the Earth is a round ball of rock still cooling from the force that created it in this inky black void of time and space, and so it will be disposed to have plate-tectonic shifts that cause sudden and violet quakes of Earth? After all… We can usually see when danger is approaching in the form of a predator and thus prepare ourselves to fend off an attack. We can see the moves of the attacker, understand their motives and weakness, and try to out manoeuver them… But when something goes beyond reason, confusion results. So why can we know somethings, and not others? Perhaps there is a force, obviously similar to ourselves i.e. clever, cunning, needy and yet absolvable in some simple way. If they are like us, then they must have appetites like ours… Appetites that can be quenched to invoke their good nature. Thus we came to the “realization” that perhaps there are these deities who could control the environment around us… And, as they were like us, in order to keep in their favour – much like the conquered keep in favour with their rulers – we offered them sacrifices to keep them appeased so that they didn’t kill us off randomly.
We fell into these deeply symbolic ways of being that allowed us to cope with the pain of life… These modes of thought allowed us to search deeply within our limited understanding of nature, and find reasons to justify the pain we felt when we lost those that we loved, or the comfort of our settled daily routines in our accustomed habitats was interrupted. For as animals, we fall into habits that are easy and sustaining… Why be a hunter gatherer who must travel endlessly, evading predators and hunting game while bringing up a family? Why not stay in one place, tilling the soil and provide for one’s family much more easily and successfully? We choose ease over difficulty. Most people do that naturally if given the choice. If we didn’t, then we wouldn’t currently be seeing this Westernization of life style sweeping over the world i.e. mobile phones, supermarkets, packaged meet, central heating, education, etc…
Rarely do we question the deeper implications and consequences of our actions. Pollution, deforestation, wars, hunting, fly-tipping (evidence of which I see so much of now-a-days while working in the fields), our continual use of plastic bags at supermarkets, etc… all are signs of our own need for “immediacy.” We have to have things our way and we have to have them now. But can we sit with eternity and feel how small we are, just as William Blake once did? Can we grasp the “greater pattern” that we’re all a part of, and so guide our actions and thoughts towards a more relevant expenditure of energy and effort? Can we understand the logical progression of the social constructs within our minds that have allowed us a safe passage thus far in the history of planet Earth?
There are many questions to consider here… No doubt many of us will consider them irrelevant to their current lives. And, sadly so, they may never fully grasp the concept of what Life actually is or what it truly means to be alive. But this is okay. That they will be nothing more than the ideal consumerist meme machines operating within the parameters of conformity begged by the capitalist machine does not matter really. It’s just one way of being. No doubt there are already many casualties to the “ideal consumerist meme machine” way of being… Iceland’s economy has already collapsed and the general populace are already looking for more independent ways of sustaining themselves away from the international markets. But then there are casualties everywhere in Life. It is a natural process to loose others along the way. Thus, with some hope of awaking the sleeper lying dormant within us all, I will say this… If we carry on consuming at the rate that we are currently… AND carry on bringing children into this world… Then we really are acting out of stupidity rather than rational thought. Why? Because we are not understanding the system of the Earth that supports us all. We’re squandering and stretching it beyond its means and abilities. We have become too self reliant upon our economies and markets to provide for us. And unlike in the past, when things go wrong this time, we will not be able to use the notion of a deity to rid us our misunderstanding and stupidity. We will have to come to some painful realizations i.e. that we alone have damaged the ecology of the world around us. Many have forgotten the way of balance that the Tao speaks of. And many more forget that this world is one big nonlinear dynamical system that is prone to being highly sensitive to mankind’s own input. And element of chaos is inherent in almost all of the dynamical systems of the world. When we loose this knowing in our daily lives, we forget who we really are and where we came from. And so we forget how to properly act in relation to the truth of our situation. THAT’S FACT! So how can we re-grasp what we truly are, without repeating old memetically infectious patterns of mass consumption or deitific abandon? Do we implement a mass killing off of all of those infected with the “bad” memes, as Pol Pot’s and the Nazis’ own regimes once did, and hop to re-program the youth with better memetic drives? Hmmm. I think not…
Perhaps we should look elsewhere for inspiration, and try to counter the herd mentality with new reason based on sound logical thought? In order to do this… One place I seem to come back to time and again is the shore of hertical discourse. For there rests one philosopher in particular… A philosopher who’s much disliked views brought about his excommunication from his Religious brethren. What they failed to see were that his views seemed to balance beautifully with the moral beliefs and notions presented in the multifaceted philosophical and religious premise of Taoism… A doctrine of understand the eternal and divine nature of all things. No doubt this is rather mighty insinuation to be placed on one man. I think he deserves it none the less. For he is none other than the much overlooked and considerably underrated Barusch Spinoza.
Baruch or Benedict de Spinoza (November 24, 1632 – February 21, 1677) was a Dutch philosopher of Portuguese Jewish origin. Revealing considerable scientific aptitude, the breadth and importance of Spinoza’s work was not fully realized until years after his death. Today, he is considered one of the great rationalists of 17th-century philosophy, laying the groundwork for the 18th century Enlightenment and modern biblical criticism. By virtue of his magnum opus, the posthumous Ethics, in which he opposed Descartes’ mind–body dualism, Spinoza is considered to be one of Western philosophy’s most important philosophers. Philosopher and historian Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel said of all modern philosophers, “You are either a Spinozist or not a philosopher at all.”
Though Spinoza was active in the Dutch Jewish community and extremely well-versed in Jewish texts, his controversial ideas eventually led community leaders to issue a cherem (a kind of excommunication) against him, effectively dismissing him from Jewish society at age 23. Likewise, all of Spinoza’s works were listed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (List of Prohibited Books) by the Roman Catholic Church.
Spinoza lived quietly as a lens grinder, turning down rewards and honors throughout his life, including prestigious teaching positions, and gave his family inheritance to his sister. Spinoza’s moral character and philosophical accomplishments prompted 20th century philosopher Gilles Deleuze to name him “the ‘prince’ of philosophers.” Spinoza died at the age of 44 of a lung illness, perhaps tuberculosis or silicosis exacerbated by fine glass dust inhaled while tending to his trade. Spinoza is buried in the churchyard of the Nieuwe Kerk on Spui in The Hague.
Spinoza was a bit of an anomaly as far as Philosophers go. He had the gall and vision to realize that if one were to “pigeon-hole” themselves into small boxes of “definite” reason i.e. via religious decree and social conformity, then one in essence traps all their future arguments into a logically narrowing corridor that allows no room for true expression of the eternal or divine aspect of everyday reality. Rather one will only be able to walk up and down these annals of its predefined conclusions. And this limiting scope can only provide the inventor to dig downward into a deeper pit of their own making… Eventually some might even hit a rock bottom of some kind. But, if not… Then their view of the eternal night sky above, and all its wonders, will only become more narrowed as their hole affords them an ever decreasing window to the heavens of possibility.
While (Spinoza) was not formally educated at University, he had undergone the traditional Jewish educational program of Shephardic Jewry – which stressed the study of the Hebrew language and the Biblical knowledge. Thus gave way to further study of medieval Jewish philosophers Maimonides (1140-1205), Gersonides (1288-1344), and Hasdai Crescas (1340-1410), in whose writings the whole range of Aristotelian philosophy in its medieval setting was extensively and intensively discussed. It is likely that his study of the classical Jewish thinkers raised for Spinoza doubts which ultimately mushroomed into full-scale philosophical perplexities. Perhaps it was at this time too that he began his study of Latin, a language familiar to many of his coreligionists in Amsterdam and certainly to one of his teachers, Menasseh ben Israel, who wrote several philosophical treatises in that language. However, on this point there is no certainty; a number of Spinoza biographers date Spinoza’s entry into the world of Latin letters after his excommunication – from the Jewish community. If he did know latin prior to that event, he would been able to read Descartes’ writings, and these materials would only have aggravated Spinoza’s philosophical perplexities. (Remember Descartes lived in Holland from 1628 until 1649 and that many of his writings were first published there.)
When we look at Spinoza’s vocabulary, it is indeed thoroughly permeated by the medieval-Cartesian semantics. One might then raise the question, why do people say that he was the first modern philosopher? If he was so radical, why didn’t he create a new philosophical language, as did Aristotle or Hegel? The use of traditional terminology only misleads us into thinking that Spinoza was doing the same thing as did Descartes or Maimonides. A new philosophy should have a new vocabulary.
These queries and objections are quite natural and understandable; and occasionally both beginning and advanced readers of the Ethics often wish that Spinoza had completely cut his umbilical cord to his philosophical parents. Yet, the traditional terminology has at least one advantage: it allows Spinoza to debate with his predecessors on common ground and the common language. Spinoza really wanted to sever his ties with his philosophical past. One very effective way to do this is to come to grips head-on with this burden and all its trappings and to show that it is empty in its own terms. What Spinoza does then is to take the philosophical language of his predecessors and turn it against them, by showing that if these terms are clearly understood and consistently thought through, different conclusions will follow.
Let us take one example. If, as Descartes postulated, a substance is that which needs nothing else in order to exist, then there is, as he himself admits, only one substance, God. However, Descartes goes on to say that it is permissible to speak of substances that are not totally self-sufficient and autonomous: created minds and bodies. (Descartes, Principles Of Philosophy 1:51) To Spinoza this philosophical-linguistic license leads to serious logical and metaphysical sins. In adopting Descartes’ definition of substance but by adhering to it consistently, Spinoza produces both an effective argument against Descartes and a new theory of substance and God.
taken from: Ethics – Treatise on The Emendation Of The Intellect and Selected Letters, introduced by Seymour Feldman
Spinoza, who in his youth had become a pious devotee of Descarte’s dualistic belief that body and mind are separate, eventually realized the limits imposed by this view i.e. on fracturing the human experience into intellect and emotion, one was breaking up the whole picture of Life into individual elements that did not seem to add up into the whole. Unlike Descartes, Spinoza was able to communicate his own heretical belief that distinct ideas were true, indeed they were self-evidently true. No doubt Descartes enunciated this belief; but he did not consistently adhere to it throughout his own works, which attracted some disastrous results for his philosophy, as his critics were quick to point out. This firm and unshakable conviction that truth resides in clear and distinct ideas, which man is not only capable of possessing but actually possess. And, as if this is all the justification that is needed, he goes on to say that these ideas were fertile enough to produce a complete system of philosophy which, if not the best, is certainly a true system of philosophy. Spinoza never abandoned this conviction. This intuitive knowledge about distinct ideas being true, indeed being self-evidently true, is something of great importance for me. And this is what I am to explain here. No doubt we have seen that the Universe around us already uses self-similar structures to unfold its processes with. The picture of the neuron next to the universe seems to denote that we are using similar structures of matter in the brain to understand similar structures found in nature around us… Thus the brain, which gives rise to the mind and its ideas, by using these naturally recurring structures must also generate natural processes of mind that resemble the ultimate design of Universal flow i.e. it uses God’s own building blocks to precipitate a deep knowing with. And because of this interconnected union of cause and effect, I “feel” that there might also be a deep connection between the idea of biological evolution and fractal topography. But as of yet, I fear the understanding of complexity and dynamical systems that might be needed to prove this connection is beyond our current means. Saying that, I doubt it will be impossible, and very much hope that it is something that future scientists might well demonstrate.
Just as I, Spinoza was all to aware of the proper way to do philosophy; for philosophy is a science based upon clear and precise definitions, self-evident axioms, and valid argumentation. Something I have done very little of in these blogs… Nut that is besides the point for the moment. Because in order to provide a solid base for one’s radical views, he had to play the philosopher’s game. Utilizing the geometrical method Spinoza expresses and practices his epistemological convictions as he pursues metaphysical, psychological, and moral questions. For Spinoza, one should not begin to philosophize by reporting one’s own doubts or by venting “metaphysical doubts” in order to reach certainty, as did Descartes. For this can only lead to a philosophical dead-end: doubts breed doubts. Clear and distinct ideas, however, cannot be doubted; and that is why Spinoza begins his Ethics by laying down such ideas as definitions and axioms. Indeed, for Spinoza doubt is impossible. And Spinoza’s method then becomes his philosophy.
Rather than subjecting himself to the obvious and sealed fate of religious decree, he decided to open up to his experience of Life and let intuition guide his intellect into truth… And so, even though he played the game of a philosopher, I feel he was able to avoid the sophomoric trap of egocentric focus upon himself, and was thus able to forge a deeply branching view of conscious insight into the very nature of this material world and the reality it contains for us…
Spinoza believed God exists only philosophically and that God was abstract and impersonal. Spinoza’s system imparted order and unity to the tradition of radical thought, offering powerful weapons for prevailing against “received authority.” As a youth he first subscribed to Descartes’s dualistic belief that body and mind are two separate substances, but later changed his view and asserted that they were not separate, being a single identity. He contended that everything that exists in Nature i.e. everything in the Universe, is one Reality (substance) and there is only one set of rules governing the whole of the reality which surrounds us and of which we are part. Spinoza viewed God and Nature as two names for the same reality, namely the single substance (meaning “that which stands beneath” rather than “matter”) that is the basis of the universe and of which all lesser “entities” are actually modes or modifications, that all things are determined by Nature to exist and cause effects, and that the complex chain of cause and effect is only understood in part.
This very beautifully resembles the Buddhist theory of the Interdependent Origination of everything. According to this law, nothing has independent, permanent, or absolute existence. Everything is part of a limitless web of interconnections and undergoes a continual process of transformation. Every appearance arises from complex causes and conditions, and in turn combines with others to produce countless effects. By interrupting the causal chain at certain key points, the course of existence can be altered and effects prevented by eliminating their causes. The entry goes on to say…
His identification of God with nature was more fully explained in his posthumously published Ethics. That humans presume themselves to have free will, he argues, is a result of their awareness of appetites while being unable to understand the reasons why they want and act as they do. Spinoza has been described by one writer as an “Epicurean materialist.”
Spinoza contends that “Deus sive Natura” (“God or Nature”) is a being of infinitely many attributes, of which thought and extension are two. His account of the nature of reality, then, seems to treat the physical and mental worlds as one and the same. The universal substance consists of both body and mind, there being no difference between these aspects. This formulation is a historically significant solution to the mind-body problem known as neutral monism. The consequences of Spinoza’s system also envisages a God that does not rule over the universe by providence, but a God which itself is the deterministic system of which everything in nature is a part. Thus, according to this understanding of Spinoza’s system, God would be the natural world and have no personality.
This ideal that God would be “the essence of the deterministic system of which everything in nature is a part,” is an ideal that I very much feel at ease with. After all, man will never be able to know the exact motion, energy, character and property of every single object and particle i.e. both galaxy and subatomic particle, exactly at any one instant. This stupendous knowledge would be such a near impossible feat of perception that only a divine being OR God who is omnipresent and omnipotent could ever Know such an all-pervading thing. This idea of the ‘infinite‘ contained in a distillation of divination is the very essence of God. If God is the total sum of all the parts of the system i.e. everything in this universe and all the parallel universes and in all the other dimensions… Then God, who is omnipotent i.e. is not subject to perceiving illusions as we “mere mortals” do, will Know “itself” perfectly and do whatever it is that it is doing and flowing into i.e. it moves naturally and all Knowingly as a collective of all the parts that it is made up of and forces that are allowing it to move and change.
The identification of God with Nature, which is reflected in Spinoza’s frequent phrase “God, or Nature,” led many of his first readers to accuse him of atheism. Nor was this accusation restricted to the unwitting only; no less a philosopher that David Hume characterized Spinoza as an “atheist.” [D. Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Book 1, section 5, pp. 240-241] But as the German poet Novalis remarked, Spinoza was “a God intoxicated man”; indeed, there are passages in the Ethics in which Spinoza speaks of God with almost mystical ardor, especially in Part V. With due respect to Hume, we must say that Spinoza was no atheist. But what about pantheism? It is clear that for Spinoza no individual mode is itself a ‘God’; nor is the collection of such individual things God. God is no mere aggregate that can be divided up or decomposed; yet, each mode is collectively the “face” of God, or God exposed concretely. In this sense we cannot sever God from nature or conversely; for God is, as Spinoza stresses, the indwelling, or immanent, cause of the world, just as all the modes, individually or collectively, are in God. The total dependence of all modes upon God and the intimate and incessant causal activity of God obliterate any real gap between nature and God. Because the term ‘pantheism’ is vague and misleading, some commentators have suggested instead ‘pan-en-theism’: “everything is in God.” But, as we have indicated, this is only one side of the coin: true, everything is in God; yet God is everything too. Perhaps it would be better to avoid using both terms; neither label is an appropriate title for Spinoza’s system. Better to employ Spinoza’s own expression – ‘God, or Nature.’
But the term ‘nature’ has in this context a dual connotation. In the Scholium to Prop. 29 of Part 1 Spinoza distinguishes between two different facets of nature, which he labels Natura Naturans and Natura Naturata. Unfortunately, there are no suitable English equivalents for these technical terms in philosophical Latin. The Latin ‘natura’ derives from the verb ‘to grow,’ ‘to be born’; this in turn is derived from the Greek ‘phuo’ and ‘physis,’ from which we get the English ‘physics,’ a natural science. Reflected in this classical etymology is the idea of nature as a dynamical system of growth and activity. The phrase ‘Natura Naturans’ is a Scholastic term, in which the word “naturans” is the active participle, “nature naturing,” which for Spinoza connotes the active aspect of God, or nature. Here God is described as manifesting infinite energy, or power. The phrase ‘Natura Naturata,’ “nature natured,” however, contains the passive participle, ‘naturata,’ signifying nature as produced and referring to the modes. Nature, then, exhibits tow aspects: one productive, the other produced; yet both are different dimensions of one and the same substance, God.
Spinoza has described for us a picture of an infinite but unitary system of interrelated things and events. It is a further consequence of such a conception that all phenomena satisfy fixed laws. Nature is not only an ordered system, a point insisted upon by Aristotle and repeated by many of the medievals, but it is a determinist system. It is a world wherein not only lawfulness reigns but in which purpose is absent. And here we have another of Spinoza’s radical conclusions. His natural determinism not only precludes chance, contingency, and irregularity; it disallows our customary conception of events and things as exemplifying design and goals. Aristotle’s “natural teleology” has been completely abandoned in favor a model according to which nature “obeys” strict mechanistic laws that do not express of manifest any ultimate goals and purpose. The traditional dicta that God or nature does nothing in vain, that God does everything for the best and that there are no gaps in nature – are all reinterpreted by Spinoza in such a way that we get a totally different perspective on the world. True – God does nothing in vain; for God acts according to the laws of his perfect nature, which is true freedom. True – God does everything for the best; for everything that happens happens necessarily according to God’s nature, which is infinitely perfect. True – nature manifests no discontinuities; but that is because God acts regularly , consistently, and omnipotently. The common ways of describing natural phenomena as good for some purpose are all “fictions,” whereby man imposes his own arbitrary and limited perspective upon nature. Here Spinoza anticipates the dominant tendency in modern biology, which dispenses with teleological notions in favor of the conceptual apparatus of biochemical and biophysical theories. All of nature is for Spinoza too a system in which ultimate purposes have no sense.
Since all of nature constitutes a unitary system, indeed one substance, human nature must be seen as an integrated element within this total complex. The medieval-Cartesian attempt to distinguish man from the rest of nature, to elevate him above the rest of the animal kingdom, was seen by Spinoza as not only an illusory metaphysical extravagance but also as symptom of a faulty psychology, whose moral consequences are serious, as we shall see. Keep in mind that the title of Spinoza’s treatise is ‘Ethics,’ i.e. it is a book that is concerned with the human life and the right way to live. But there is no use in writing about ethics if we have an erroneous conception of nature in general and of human nature in particular.
taken from: Ethics – Treatise on The Emendation Of The Intellect and Selected Letters, introduced by Seymour Feldman
We must understand this need that we have had to refer to the ultimate divine flow of the natural world around us as God. For whenever we try to define God’s decree, we unwittingly separate others, with very the will of our own minds, from God’s divine flow. No doubt, when mankind was younger than we are today, He might have looked at men who had journeyed from afar and so, perceiving errors in their ways of being, been overly judgmental towards their actions and ways… For how could He understand the reasons behind something that He has never seen? For example… No doubt a man from the desert would conserve water and enjoy imbibing a bit of salt now and again… And if a man from the mountains came to the desert and asked for water because he was over heating, even though he did not look parched or really in need of water, and the desert man gave him only salt…. Wouldn’t the mountain dweller feel confused? Having never been in the desert before, perhaps the mountain dweller does not understand that salt will help him more than water… Thus because the mountain man cannot see that water is life and that his need would be better served with salt, he might presume a selfish nature for the desert dweller. Man is only as good at deducing things from his senses and his previous experiences… And if he has not experienced something for himself OR/AND if his senses sometimes mislead him to misinterpret a situation, then how can he be truly sure of anything?
If we try to ascribe a personality to something that has none, then we are violating the very definition of it. Let me use a common example of misrepresentation… One that we use daily, called “nothing.” To call nothing “nothing” is, by the very definition of naming it, making it something. And thereby it ceases to truly be nothing. In reality nothing cannot be described, as there is only an absence of everything. Nothing is empty of all measurement and meaning and devoid of any need or understanding. The very definition of zero is a deep all pervading ideal that relates to essence of God. To call God “God”, is in essence making the same mistake. When we call God “God” we are limiting the divine and eternal through man-made necessity to try to understand what God is. When mankind was young and innocent, he couldn’t help himself from doing this. But now, with the advent of science, math and philosophy, we can begin to Know and understand what we didn’t Know… Albeit indirectly by Knowing our error. When we see this, we might begin to understand how we trap ourselves into misunderstanding a thing. When this wisdom is truly learnt, one can begin to become free of one’s self, and see what the Buddhists call “samsara.”
Let us return once again to Spinoza…
In addition to substance, the other two fundamental concepts Spinoza presents, and develops in the Ethics are attribute – that which the intellect perceives as constituting the essence of substance, and mode – the modifications of substance, or that which exists in, and is conceived through, something other than itself.
Spinoza was a thoroughgoing determinist who held that absolutely everything that happens occurs through the operation of necessity. For him, even human behaviour is fully determined, with freedom being our capacity to know we are determined and to understand why we act as we do. So freedom is not the possibility to say “no” to what happens to us but the possibility to say “yes” and fully understand why things should necessarily happen that way. By forming more “adequate” ideas about what we do and our emotions or affections, we become the adequate cause of our effects (internal or external), which entails an increase in activity (versus passivity). This means that we become both more free and more like God, as Spinoza argues in the Scholium to Prop. 49, Part II. However, Spinoza also held that everything must necessarily happen the way that it does. Therefore, humans have no free will. They believe, however, that their will is free. In his letter to G. H. Schaller (Letter 62), he wrote: “men are conscious of their own desire, but are ignorant of the causes whereby that desire has been determined.”
No doubt we have touched on the area of free-will in a previous blog entitled “Do We Have Free Will?” And again, if we look closely, we can see that while we are lead to believe that we do have free will… Our perception and the resulting actions we chose are based on constructs of the body and mind, which are deterministic structures that are subject to laws and rules about the way they operate.
Thus, in Shirow Masamune’s “Ghost In The Shell,” when Major Motoko Kusanagi says:
“There are countless ingredients that make up the human body and mind, like all the components that make up me as an individual with my own personality. Sure, I have a face and voice to distinguish myself from others, but my thoughts and memories are unique only to me, and I carry a sense of my own destiny. Each of those things are just a small part of it. I collect information to use in my own way. All of that blends to create a mixture that forms me and gives rise to my conscience.
“I feel confined, only free to expand myself within boundaries.“
…she is in essence providing the viewer with a very accurate description of how free we all actually are. We are all confined – within these organic bodies, limited by our frailty, we need air to breath and food to nourish – only free to expand ourselves within these boundaries. Basically, it is only the way in which we perceive the environment around us that affords us most of our freedom. We can choose to see it with the limitations of social conditioning i.e. we are decide to simply use the memes that are passed down to us by our religious, political or moral decrees to define and understand our world with… OR we can think deeply about this experience (without digging a deep hole from which we cannot escape, as do most philosophers) and define our own terms and ideals, within reason to our needs, and build up either a greater fiction in which to live, or develop a better understanding more suited to the world around us. Either way… The choice is ultimately ours.
Spinoza’s philosophy has much in common with Stoicism in as much as both philosophies sought to fulfill a therapeutic role by instructing people how to attain happiness (or eudaimonia, for the Stoics). However, Spinoza differed sharply from the Stoics in one important respect: he utterly rejected their contention that reason could defeat emotion. On the contrary, he contended, an emotion can only be displaced or overcome by a stronger emotion. For him, the crucial distinction was between active and passive emotions, the former being those that are rationally understood and the latter those that are not. He also held that knowledge of true causes of passive emotion can transform it to an active emotion, thus anticipating one of the key ideas of Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis.
There are many such constructs that we as humans take for granted in our every day lives… We use them and talk of them as though they were real… And yet we do not understand most of their true meanings. Rather we memetically use these ideas like parrots who simply repeat the words that they hear… Their inability to understand these words holds no bearing on their ability to reproduce them and string them into a scentence that seems to make sense. They mearly copy what they hear. But if we cannot understand their true meanings, then are our babblings really as “clear-cut” as we perceive them OR think them to be? Are we articulating anything meaningful, or are we just regurgitating what others have said before in our own slightly different way?
Which brings to mind Shirow Masamune’s “Ghost In The Shell” once again… At one point, while watching a “ghost-hacked” trashman dealing with the fact that his wife was nothing more than a simulated memory implanted in his mind, Batou says to General Motoko:
“That’s all it is: information. Even a simulated experience or a dream; simultaneous reality and fantasy. Any way you look at it, all the information that a person accumulates in a lifetime is just a drop in the bucket…”
Real, certain truths are hard to know. The universe is in a continual state of flux. Most of the ultimate truths that we, as a society, think we know for sure are not really truths. Rather they are perceived truths based on a combination of empirical, rational and function interpretations about that which we have observed. Thus the truths themselves are meaningless… Many will not stand the test of time. This it is the processes which allowed us to derive these “truths” that become all important. Processes are patterns… And these understanding these patterns gives us a better idea about reality and truth. Patterns, most of which are like the nonlinear dynamical equations that Lorenz studied in his weather systems, are prone to unpredictable change. Thus, in order to understand something with any certainty, we must embrace uncertainty. Then, once we have done this, we can begin to see truth as it should be seen: something that changes with time, circumstance and varying environmental pressures.
As we have seen… Man is prone to illusion. This is a truth. And in order to See clearly, We will all need to understand the human-condition better, just as Beau Lotto is doing. Then, once we can see the loop holes in our seemingly exacted perception of the world around us, we will be able to probe deeper into what we are, why we are, how we came into being and where we derive our understanding from. Perhaps then, many of the solid, every-day truths that we take for granted may be replaced by a deeper more penetrating realism that will allow us to function better as a species i.e. we may free ourselves from the greed, hatred, mindless over-population and other self-centered desires that clutter and place strain on our delicate planet… And perhaps in ridding ourselves of these capitalist ingrained values, we might be able to implement a more caring and ecologically sound way of living and understanding that will penetrate deeply into the surrounding environment. By educating ourselves through science, we begin to see the patterns residing within the complex chain of cause and effect that occurs within the planetary ecosystem here on Earth (something which is currently understood only in very basic parts) and thus understand how it forms complex cycles that oscillate in a multitude of interconnecting, delicate nonlinear dynamical systems. Anything tugging on one side of the system will also tug on all the infinite subsets of the system, until the combined viscosity of these seeming small and insignificant changes start to effect other areas of our ecosystem, perhaps warping some important creature and their life giving process, much like the honey bee and it’s pollenation cycle, into dysfunction.
Whether we want to hear it or not… Chaos is sensitive and unpredictable. This is a truth… A truth set in patterns that repeat themselves across many scales all over this universe, and probably even beyond it too.
This is my aim… When we are able to See some obvious patterns at work, we might be able to understand their flow. And having see the divine, we then might be able to see the natural flow that precipitates Life in the universe. For when one understands the complex interplay of all the forces of matter, the electro-magnetism lying central to these forces, as well as the principles guiding them – and do so all once – one can begin to see the flow of chaos and probablity, just as Boltzmann once saw it. And when we see this tide, and understand the workings of the human mind better, we will be able to separate certainty from the not-so-obvious stories and faerie-tales that man made-up long ago to explain his existence in the dark and unenlightened past. Within these blogs lies a system of empirical truths that can set you on a path that will lead you away from the socially confusion of everyday life… Only if you so choose it. For I’m not asking you to change… Rather, what I’m implying is that your effort to remain what you are is what limits you. And in a time when chaos and a deeper understanding provide humanity a freedom within the confines of old dogmatic ideals… Well… Wouldn’t you feel obliged to move on into new dizzying hights of understanding? So that you can provide a better life for your off-spring, without upsetting the delicate planetary ecosystem that supports us all… And ecosystem which is precisely based on chaotic ebbs and flows??? OR… Do you want to ignore the sacrifices that We all, as organisms here on planet Earth, have made on our journey thus far to reach these dizzying hights of being? Because by wrapping ourselves up in “consumerist delight” and ignoring this pattern of Life, we are stagnating into a habitual order… An order that is only doomed to fail in a Universe that undergoes continuous change.
As the Puppet Master said in “Ghost In The Shell”, “Life perpetuates itself through diversity, and this includes the ability to sacrifice itself when necessary. Cells repeat the process of degeneration and regeneration until one day they die, obliterating an entire set of memory and information. Only genes remain. Why continually repeat this cycle? Simply to survive by avoiding the weaknesses of an unchanging system.” If we do not change, then how can we grow? Do not become complacent with what you have now i.e. this never ending supply of food that many of us take for granted here in the Western world… It is not sustainable!
- “Chaos often breeds life, while order breeds habit…”
And so I’ll move on to the point of this blog… No doubt those of you who have read some of the other blogs within this website will have noticed some rather strange circles that were included at the top of some of the blogs? To be exact, there were eight in total…
Let us discuss these points once again very briefly so that we can understand what each of them was directing our attention towards:
Here we can begin to understand the process of the stars i.e. how the solar system that Earth exists within came into being. I provide as much evidence as science has afforded me to demonstrate the idea of accretion and planet formation in as clear and concise a way as possible. We even have the chance to understand the types of stars that form, their respective life spans, and therefore we can begin to glimpse how improbable that it was that our solar system came about in the way that it did.
In this blog I begin to address some important points about how Life, once the Earth had formed and cooled down from the immense forces of accretion, possibly came about. It demonstrates how easily amino acids can come into being i.e. a simple result of methane, carbon dioxide and electricity arcing through the atmosphere, and also demonstrate that complex hydrocarbon molecules form easily around stars as they ignite. We then move on to see probably the most fundamental natural process that demonstrates how life could have easily come into being i.e. the naturally occurring formation of lipids bilayers in water, which easily close into vesicles. We then look at the first fossil records and notice that a single type of cyanobacteria, called “Stromatolites,” existed 2 billion years after the Earth’s formation…
Here I provide nothing more than an article that I found in the Los Angeles Times on 31st July 2009 which raises some very important issues concerning human understanding and the evolution of religious ideals within society.
In this blog I present an atricle from New Scientist magazine that discusses the idea of what constitutes Life as we know it. Here we see how scientists are about to herald the second genesis of Life… A genesis that man has nudged in the right direction. From the simple organic matter that is found everywhere in the universe, science is now only moments away from recreating a similar organism to the first single celled organisms that took a foot hold here on Earth over 2 billion years ago.
Sir Roger Penrose offers a humbling and honest look into what “reality” really is. This constitutes the basis for our own experience of Life, and clearly demonstrates how each of us can be subject to imposing their own beliefs and notions onto what reality really is.
Susan Blackmore provides here very deep and penetrating look into what We, as human beings, are… In many ways one may find this the most troubling point of all. But ultimately, when one lets go of one’s egocentric delusion, it will become clear how natural and sound an explanation this observation realy is. Once we understand the delicate nature of how easily we can be led into making decisions, then we can begin to ask the important question about how this occurs?
Are we really as free as we think we are? In this blog we can begin to understand how and why the notion of free will is really nothing more than an illusion founded on misunderstanding. This important point paves the way to understanding how your freedom arises and how you can begin to untie yourself from dogmatic ideals as perceive new horizons of being.
The last of these points is probably the most important. Here Beau Lotto examines the human condition of Seeing, and demonstrates that we are more prone to illusion than we care admit. This will be the last humbling reminder that we should need to know that certainty is nothing more than a delusion between what we sense and what is really there. No doubt this delusion is very handy, for it allows us to navigate the dangers of the world very accurately so as to ensure our survival. However, there are aspects to this delusion that we must grasp in order to make better and more adequate decisions about what we can do to ensure our long term survival.
These are the points so far discussed. And I should mention that there is a key to deciphering what they show us… This key lies in their arrangement. Once in their respective places, one might begin to see the boundaries in which we are free to expand ourselves.
Remember not to look at the finger that is pointing towards the open sky… For looking at the finger is to miss the point in heaven that it is directing your attention towards.
October 19, 2009
There are two beautifully descriptive phrases which appear again and again in Zen literature: Mizu no kokoro and Tsuki no kokoro.
Mizu no kokoro is often translated as “mind like water.” This is a lovely phrase which is too inexact to be very helpful, standing alone. What is meant by this is to make the mind calm when facing an emergency or an adversary. The calm mind, like still water, accurately reflects all that comes before it. It is otherwise referred to as fudoshin or “immovable mind.”
Tsuki no kokoro is usually translated as a mind like the moon. This refers to the necessity of maintaining surveillance over one’s surroundings at all times. As the bright illumination produced by the unclouded full moon as it reflects its light earthward, so the mind must be aware of all conditions surrounding it. This is often described as zanshin or kan-ken futatsu no koto, or “perceiving with both the eyes and the intuitive mind.”
October 17, 2009
You hurt me years ago;
My wounds bled for years.
Now you are back,
But I am not the same.
In the past, warriors fought by striking the same points that acupuncturists use. One famous swordsman nearly died in a duel in which his opponent attacked him in such a way. After that, the swordsman became a wanderer and tried to renounce the martial life. Years later, his enemy found him and challenged him to duel again. They fought. In the first flurry of blows, the aggressor stepped back in surprise. The swordsman smiled and said, “I trained for twenty years to move my vulnerable spots.” With that, he was finally able to triumph.
Spirituality is a process of inner healing. The wounds of the past can be the greatest obstacles for self-cultivation unless we find them all and heal them. This task can take years, but we must accomplish it.
In many cases, our wounds were inflicted by other people – enemies. This is subtle. Our enemies can be others on the street, or people much more intimate with us: parents, teachers, siblings, lovers, friends.
If we move away from such people and succeed in practise, they will have no chance to come back in our lives. How can they? We change whatever made us vulnerable in the first place.